In the fifteenth chapter of Untold, I have an untold number of feelings. GET IT. GET IT. Okay, I’ll shut up now.
Chapter Fifteen: Wild Night
I’d like to offer up a bit of a defense for my enjoyment of this book and what Sarah Rees Brennan writes.
So, it’s gone now because the person deleted it after realizing what a poophead they were, but prior to reading chapter fourteen, I checked Twitter to find someone complaining about this book, about me liking it, and about how they felt I was just enjoying this book because they knew that the author was probably reading these reviews.
If you’re already rolling your eyes, that’s a good first step. I caused a 2.4 earthquake in my apartment just from the sheer force of my eye roll. Also, why is it that people are surprised that I can see the thing y’all tag me in? You realize that’s how tags work, right? Anyway, that’s a separate point. I COULD YELL ABOUT THAT THING FOR A WHILE. Instead, let’s focus on Kami and Holly. Because feelings, right?
I suppose this is a bit repetitive because I’ve already spoken early on during my reviews for this book that I loved that Sarah Rees Brennan lent credence and validity to the idea of teen angst. It’s also no surprise that my favorite Harry Potter book is also the one routinely made fun of because it’s so angst-y. So, I’m coming at this with a very, very personal bias: My teenage life was full of angst. I was in the closet. I had abusive parents. I was bullied by nearly every person in my life. I was poor, and when I ran away from home, the catharsis of freedom was marred by adult responsibility being dropped in my lap at the tender age of 16. And because of this, I think I will always find comfort in YA fiction that explores how teenagers deal with emotional burdens, with trauma, with horror, with oppression. Perhaps it’s a way for me to see myself in others. Perhaps it’s a way of attaining closure on my life. Perhaps I’m just hoping that other kids like me, who might have to struggle with what I went through, are able to find comfort in fictional worlds.
This chapter – and this series up to this point – is an intentional thing. I say that because it’s no surprise that the drama that comes up between these characters is largely emotionally based. We know that Brennan is writing partially in the gothic tradition. The setting of this series clues us into that, and what little I know outside of what I have read in the book itself is proof that Brennan designed this all to reference a very specific genre of literature. That doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same, of course. This is a modern version of romantic lit, sure, but complaining about the “drama” that is caused by the situations that these characters are in seems silly because… that’s the point? That would be like complaining about how dramatic Elizabeth Bennet acts towards Darcy. If you feel that way, why are you reading Pride and Prejudice in the first place? This is not to suggest you must love Austen, that you have to love The Lynburn Legacy, or that there is some list of universally adored novel that must be exempt from all criticism. I’d never hold a view like that. But genre fiction – whether it’s subversive or not – has certain elements to it that make it part of that genre, and it seems silly to me to complain about the very things that qualify a work of fiction as being part of a genre, you know?
I look at it this way. I think that soap operas rely on melodrama because it’s entertaining, and I think that the very origin of soaps wouldn’t have happened without early romantic fiction. Given that, I expect that there is a certain amount of absurdity to the way that the emotional storylines unfold. I don’t read romance stories expecting perfect realism. No, I want there to be ridiculous situations where someone is making out with forty people and confused about what everything means, and there are constant misunderstandings and constant scenes of people emoting at one another. And I think you can find a very intentional organization to the scenes in Untold that are meant to create drama and to increase tension. At the same time, however, it’s through this melodrama that Brennan explores very real issues. You cannot tell me that Kami’s confusion over who she kissed in Water Rising isn’t a further exploration of Ash’s role in this world. Yes, it seems strange that a person would kiss someone and not know their identity, but there are also motherfucking sorcerers in this book, too. Ash Lynburn has no idea where he fits in, and I love that Brennan, through emotional devastation, explores what this means for a kid who is expected to live up to the impossible demands of his parents. I enjoy that Kami’s own self-worth is front-and-center. I love that she explores her attraction to other boys in the way that she does; she constantly questions her desires and her attraction, and I find that to be remarkably healthy.
And Holly. HOLLY. Here’s a young woman who has often used sex as a playful escape. (Notice that Sarah Rees Brennan does not devalue this experience, either. We aren’t meant to look down on Holly any more than the other characters who aren’t pursuing sex.) And she’s so confused and lost because her family has betrayed her, so she turns to the behavior she once used to escape this world, and she finds out that it doesn’t work anymore either. She can’t have sex with Jared, and Jared drops a bombshell, too: After Kami, he can’t feel anything for any other person. She was so real to him that everyone else pales in comparison, and he is torn apart by his desire to be linked with her again.
These are all extremely important issues to talk about. They are things that any person might go through. They aren’t fantasy, and even if their construction is fictional and forced so that they tell a story, that doesn’t make them any less real.
Holly is the perfect example of that. We finally learn the source of her fear and her terrible behavior towards Angela: Holly is actually bisexual and she just found out she’s a sorcerer. DEALING WITH ONE OF THOSE THINGS WOULD BE OVERWHELMING AS IT IS, but Holly is struggling with both of these revelations at the same fucking time. Her sudden attraction – TO ANGELA, OF ALL PEOPLE!!! – is a direct refutation of the whole “born that way” trope that’s attached to queer characters, AND I LOVE EVERY GODDAMN SECOND OF IT. Not only that, but it’s part of this whole point I’m trying to make. This sort of melodrama is about teenagers having feelings – really confusing feelings, feelings that make it seem like the world is ending, feelings that take over their lives – and then Sarah Rees Brennan validates them all by focusing the narrative on it.
Again, that doesn’t mean this book shouldn’t be criticized or that I won’t do it. Come on. Sarah is an adult and can handle criticism, and I haven’t resisted being critical of things in the past, despite knowing that the creator was reading my blog. It’s offensive to me to suggest otherwise because that’s never been the point of this site. (Though there is a part of me that suspects some subtle misogyny at work here. A woman writes about mostly other women experiencing emotional trauma and now it’s too “dramatic”? Oh, okay.) I am ecstatic that y’all have been able to figure out my taste and constantly recommend me books that I like, but I would hope y’all could also see how willing I am to say, “Hey, I don’t like this thing for reason x.”
And for what it’s worth, that’s not the case with Untold. I’m enjoying this book a lot, and I’m not pretending to like it at all. If it’s not your thing? That’s perfectly fine. You’re always entitled to that. But don’t presume that I’ve now got some secret agenda to my writing that involves me… I don’t even know what the imagined end result is of all this. I get to talk positively about books? Whatever, y’all. I’m enjoying Untold, I hope some of you are, too, and I hope we can all have a good time analyzing a work of fiction, even if some of us ultimately don’t like it at all.
Today’s bonus reading, commissioned by Taryn, is of “The Night After I Lost You,” which takes place immediately after the end of Unspoken. Please note that the original text contains the words “crazy,” “insane,” and “dumb.”
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